One of the hardest things to do when writing is not copying the style and plots of those people I admire, although those people are there to learn from.
My list of favourite authors starts right back in my childhood, because we all end up liking who we do because of the discoveries we made as children, where one book leads to another.
Enid Blyton was the early favourite. The Famous Five were just fantastic, so thrilling and adventurous, and I got lost so much in old houses and castles. For me, a young boy it was a world away from my own experience, just a young kid on an estate.
I don’t know if it was only rich people who got publishing deals in decades gone by, but it always seemed that fictional children went to boarding school. I was a devotee of the Jennings and Darbishire series by Anthony Buckeridge and the fun of young boys sent away to school, which echoed the toff-life of the Famous Fives.
Back then, I enjoyed a book series, more of a collector than I am now. As well as the Jennings and Darbishire books, I would buy the Dr Who novels, and loved most of all the old stories originally played out on television by William Hartnell. My bookshelves consisted of a long line of Famous Fives, alongside a long line of Alfred Hithcock’s Three Investigators, and longer lines of Dr Who novels and Jennings books. It was as if I couldn’t trust anyone else.
These days, my bookshelves are more varied. I buy books more on a whim these days, and don’t consciously follow a series. I did used to buy the Carl Hiaassen books, but I think I might have missed a couple now.
It was my father who pushed me into my next reading path. He was always a big reader, always had either a book or a pint in his hand. Horror was his thing, and I remember feeling that I’d gone beyond children’s fiction and asked him to recommend something from his bookcase.
He passed me I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I don’t know if he was simply being cruel and enjoying the thought of scaring the living jeebies out of me, but I loved it, and that set my reading material for the next ten years, where it was all horror and ghost stories.
John Grisham changed that, and led me to crime. I suspect I was always going to end up there. Horror had started to fail me, in that I stopped being frightened, and university came along, so reading became about studying. Once law school had finished, my girlfriend and I (now wife) toured the States by train. We were about to settle into a thirty-hour train journey from New Orleans to Philadelphia and I spotted The Pelican Brief, which was set in New Orleans and Washington DC (where we’d been a fortnight earlier). John Grisham wasn’t really known in the UK then as he is now, it was August 1993, and I thought it sounded good and was set in the places I’d just visited. I loved it, and he made the journey fly by. Before we headed back to the UK a couple of weeks later, for the career humdrum, I’d acquired The Firm and A Time To Kill. From then, it was nothing but crime.
I suspect it was always going to be that way. I was about to start my career as a criminal lawyer, so I was always heading towards crime as the mainstay in my life.
I did detour occasionally. One writer I enjoyed very much was W.P. Kinsella, who wrote Shoeless Joe, which became the film Field of Dreams. I loved his mid-western whimsical style. His books were hard to find over here, so every time I went to the States I made a point of bringing some back. But it was mainly crime.
Becoming a crime writer has changed things, because I get less time to choose what I’d like to read. I receive books from publishers to read, and I’ll buy books written by friends, and my time is squeezed out by being both a criminal lawyer and a writer, but if left with a free rein, I’ll buy writers like Michael Connelly, Lee Child, James Lee Burke. I used to be a fan of Patricia Cornwell, but I haven’t enjoyed the more recent stuff as much.
I tend to prefer American crime fiction, and this is purely because I can suspend my disbelief more easily. If I read a British crime thriller, particularly a legal thriller, I’m always on the lookout for errors, and there are often some real howlers. Apple Tree Yard restored some of my faith, and showed that you can write accurate legal thrillers and be enjoyable, but I tend to avoid the British stuff for that reason. The American stuff might be just as inaccurate but I can wallow in blissful ignorance.
I enjoy books set in the Deep South. There is something about the warm, lazy nights and the drawl makes for an atmospheric novel. I enjoy reading James Lee Burke for that reason.
I should mention the books I’ve enjoyed recently. The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis is very good. It is out in paperback very soon and I recommend it heartily to anyone. The books in my to-be-read pile that I’m relishing are Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb. I started it but my impending deadline made me put it down again. I have Willnot by James Sallis to read, which I’m looking forward to, along many others in a pile that grows too quickly.